|The town of Wheatfield appears one step closer to landing a major entertainment project that will revolve around the “Wizard of Oz” saga.
After months of anticipation, representatives of Oz Central LLC announced last Monday that Wheatfield is their first choice as the destination for a new “The Magical Land of Oz” theme park and destination resort.
“With the ever-present Niagara Falls rainbow nearby, we are confident this is the right spot for ‘Oz’ magic,” said Richard Burch in Monday’s press release. Burch is president of Kentucky-based Oz Central, the corporation representing the estate of the late “Oz” creator and author, L. Frank Baum.
The $788 million project would see the construction of a 300-acre theme park off River Road in Wheatfield. With more than 80 percent of its attractions to be located indoors, the park would be capable of operating year-round.
“We are planning what is destined to become the touchstone for theme parks in the 21st century,” Burch said. “This isn’t going to be a regional amusement park with roller coasters. ‘Oz’ will be a world-class theme park with thrilling experiences, interactive rides and amazing, immersive environments unlike anything anyone has seen.”
To emphasize its sincere interest in Wheatfield, Oz Central already acquired more than 800 acres of land along River Road, located within the boundaries of Williams and Witmer roads.
A Positive Sign
Wheatfield Town Supervisor Timothy Demler sees the most recent commitment of Oz Central to Western Niagara County as a positive sign.
“Although nothing is set in stone, I think the announcement was very positive since it raised Wheatfield a notch,” he said. “Last Friday, the Oz board of directors voted to go forward with Wheatfield as an option, which is, I think, a pretty solid indication on their part.”
Demler added that the Oz group’s selection of Wheatfield remains contingent on the results of the town’s environmental impact study and the scope of incentives New York state is willing to provide Oz.
The Wheatfield Town Board is expected to declare the town as lead agent of the environmental impact study at its Aug. 15 meeting. According to Demler, the town aims to have the study completed and its results available by November.
In regards to the state incentives, the supervisor, who played an instrumental role in bringing the Oz group together with local politicians, landowners and business people, is currently working with state officials on a package that would include tax breaks and the creation of an Empire Zone, as well as bed and tourism taxes for the theme park.
“I think if the project gets going, it will have a very strong impact on Niagara County,” Demler said.
Projections indicated that the theme park could create 10,000 jobs related to the construction and another 8,000 jobs at the opening of the resort. Overall, it is estimated that the project could create more than 15,000 new jobs within the region and $25 million in annual tax revenue for Wheatfield, $10 million for Niagara County and $35 million for New York state.
“The economic impact will be huge,” Demler said. “The tax revenue alone could significantly cut property taxes in Niagara County.”
For more than two years, Oz representatives have looked at possible locations across the United States for a new theme park. After months of negotiations, Wheatfield and Houston emerged last summer as the finalists for the multi-million project. The selection of Wheatfield as the first choice as location for the theme park was based upon the favorable results of preliminary feasibility studies conducted by Economic Research Associates of Los Angeles.
“Our group has invested a substantial amount of funds and will continue to do so to move this project forward in Wheatfield,” Burch said.
With a marketing study and a pro-forma business plan already in place by the Oz Central, Demler expects that an official announcement will follow within the next four to six weeks.
“(Last Monday’s) announcement (was) another major step and we can’t wait to make this a reality for the people in Niagara County,” he said, adding that the Oz group always had a genuine interest in bringing its new theme park to Western New York. “When the final announcement comes, you will see are real project; a project that is desperately needed and that will turn this area around.”